One thing that has stuck with me from the American Renaissance conference is something Jared Taylor said in his speech to open the show. He talked about how for the longest time, he was a lonely voice in the wilderness. His events were lightly attended and ignored by the media. He was sure that he was merely keeping a record. He said this while pointing out how quickly things had changed. A few years ago his event got fifty attendees and now it had hundreds with hundreds turned away.
It resonated with me because it brought to mind the life of Cicero. Marcus Tullius Cicero was one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers. No writer in the history of the West has had greater influence. Well into the 19th century, European writers were influenced by his style. He was also an immensely important politician. He was consul during the Catilinarian conspiracy, having the conspirators executed. During the dictatorship of Julius Caesar he agitated for the return of traditional republican government.
Following Caesar’s death, Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony, attacking him in speeches. For his trouble, he was proscribed, as an enemy of the state, by the Second Triumvirate and consequently executed in 43 BC. His severed hands and head were displayed in the Roman Forum, as a final revenge of Mark Antony. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited with initiating the Renaissance and inspiring political theorists like John Locke to embrace the republican form of government.
Cicero is relevant to our age for the simple reason that he kept a record during the last days of the Roman Republic. Fifteen hundred years later, educated men in the emerging West, would be inspired by and cautioned by the writings of Cicero. There was a record of what was happening in the late stages of the Roman Republic and a record of those who tried to prevent it. Without that record, without the thoughts and words of those ancients, who fought the coming darkness, there may have never been the West.
This is why Rome was of great interest to the men of the Enlightenment. The American Founders were all students of Greece and Rome. They understood that when Rome fell, the West was plunged into an intellectual, economic and cultural darkness. These were men aware of the fact that they were coming out the other side of what happened at the close of the Republic. They naturally looked to Rome for clues as to how they could avoid the same fate, when coming up with new forms of government.
As we enter the late stages of the American Republic and the last days of what we have always known as the West, keeping a record may be the best we can accomplish. The fight will be fought, but only a delusional optimist can be blind to reality. Whether it is citizens being hunted down for heresy or weird looking foreigners demanding the disenfranchisement of natives, for the crime of hate speech, the signs are all there. The ruling elites of the West no longer have any faith in liberal democracy or the rule of law.
That may seem overly pessimistic, but just look at the immigration debate. Trump won the most improbable of victories on the promise to reverse decades of insane immigration polices. His position is actually the moderate one. A large percentage of Americans would shut down all immigration. Trump has merely promised to crack down on illegals and do something about the visa rackets. In the case of DACA, his position is to enforce the law, rather than perpetuate Obama’s policy of flouting the law.
Despite his moderation, the ruling elite is fighting him at every turn. His own party in Congress is not just blocking him on immigration reform. They are proudly attacking him over it. Politicians are cautious by nature, which means they live in fear of being on the wrong side of voters. Yet on this and other issues, they boast about giving their voters the bird. It’s tempting to say they are bought by moneyed interests, but this looks more like insanity than corruption. Our political class is suicidal.
That’s just one example. The broad appeal of populist polices on trade, taxes and social issues should have resulted in a wave of populist politicians. Trump is a terrible politician and his many quirks make him ill-suited for politics. Imagine a polished professional running on the same issues as Trump. Yet, we don’t see anyone picking up on these issues. It’s as if the entire political class has been infected with a virus that makes them act against their own interests, by alienating their own voters.
Debating the causes of what’s happening is part of keeping a record, just as doing what can be done to arrest it. One has to have hope that the fever will break, but if it doesn’t and we continue on the current path, documenting the insanity of our age is an important part of the fight. We may lack a Cicero to shape the way in which we think of our age, but Julius Caesar and Mark Antony are not showing up either. In an age of mediocre tyrants, we’ll have mediocre chroniclers of our age. Keeping a record is all that can be done.